Singing with my Heart
It was evening when I sat with all of my aunts, uncle, sisters, our mother and a couple ladies from our village. We all gathered together in the small church living room, bathed in the light of the churches orange lamps. They sat with withered gospel books or printed copies of the songs on their laps, singing At The Cross, all together in harmony. Some ladies would sing too soon or sing off-key which would be met with smiles and laughs all around, even from the ladies who made the mistake, so they would start again. I peered shyly as our pastor strummed the guitar in melody to my families singing, wishing I can have a chance at giving it a try. The smell of the dusty church and the smell Dr. Pepper on my aunt’s breath was strong, as I sat next to her, who has the loudest voice of them all. There was no question that I wasn’t mesmerized by the new expression of our Lutheran religion. I was 5 years old and as long as I can remember my family has been in the church choir, so it was only natural that I came to love it, too.
Growing up with a family in the church choir in the village, meant going to church a lot and that’s where my cousins and I were grouped into categories; soprano, alto and bass. My aunt is a lady who carries a lot of respect with her, along with her bag that has anything you’ll ever need like tissue, mints, and gum. Naturally, my aunt is in charge of our translated gospel songs and she taught us how to sing in Inupiaq. She would catch us off guard by letting us sing the translated songs with her every year at the Lutheran Church Conference. We never practiced singing the Inupiaq songs, we only grew up hearing them sung, so when she’d call us up to sing, we did really slow, quiet and didn’t know how to properly pronounce the words, but we knew what we were singing about, so we would try our best. My cousins and I were so nervous and sweaty as we looked out into the crowd of people, mostly elders grasping onto our every word we sang, for their hearing is diminishing. Then, when I was a senior in high school, we were able to fluently sing translated gospel songs. Then before we knew it, we were able to listen to the conversations that the elders around us were having in Inupiaq, that used to be foreign to us in middle school.
By the time I was a high school junior, living with my aunt and going to school in Anchorage, my world suddenly became dark and soundless when my cousin received a phone call that Sunday while we were visiting my Papa Chester. I was in the living room as my cousin came in crying “I’m so sorry Kait, I’m so sorry, your sister Karena passed away.' My heart was crying out, until I fell asleep from the heartache. I woke up to my mother’s side of the family that lived in the city around me, comforting and mourning with me. My family in the village arranged a ticket for me to go home. As I was flying home, I thought of the songs my sister loved listening to like Precious Memories and The Prayer by Kid Cudi. At her funeral, my sisters and I were too heartbroken to sing for her, so everyone else on the choir dedicated Never Alone. Hearing those songs felt like having her there with me. She was the strongest woman I knew like in the song by Kid Cudi, but with a whole lot of heart like in Precious Memories.
By the time I got to college and also before I veered off course from classes, I would practice singing by myself or attend church with my grandfather at the small Lutheran church gathering in Anchorage. The pastor called all of the children up to sing. I was new to the service the city had to offer, thinking I was included with the children as my aunt would make me go up if she were with us, started to get up, but was met with a gentle pat on the shoulder by my Papa Chester, so I sat down, feeling the heat on my face. Then the pastor asked the congregations to sing He Hideth My Soul for a person who was sick in the community. At first, there was a piano opening for the song which started out slow and graceful, then a lot of voices joined in and sang in unison for the first verse. All around me I heard different beautiful voices around me, a broad deep voice behind me, a sweet voice ringing like a bell two rows ahead as I joined in. Much to my surprise, my Papa joined in with his elderly voice with a hint of resistance due to his hearing and sight loss, but nonetheless was singing. It was so touching to hear him sing, that I started tearing up, because I’ve never heard anybody on my father’s side sing any gospel songs.
Music in my life has always expressed what I feel inside with a passion. It’s always been joyous, comforting, memorable and at times heartbreaking, but it’s a way to deal with it instead of holding it all in. Hearing the choir sing what my heart is feeling makes me want to sing with all of my 18 nieces and nephews and pass along the tradition. Like my sister Karena used to say “Never hold it in, it’s okay to cry cause you’re vulnerable when you’re crying, but when you’re done you come back stronger than ever. Sing about it if you feel like it and always sing from the heart.'
“Ke cay tese a took lu tah quwiah suloo tah ahgi Yukmmun nevah lu tah hoya go shuwamun un alikshup te noon.'
Translation: “O come let us sing for joy to the Lord, let us shout aloud to the rock of our salvation.'